Randy Johnson, youth minister at First Baptist Church of Richardson, does not attribute his longevity with the church to his skills as a minister. In fact, Johnson, who will retire in Jan. after 28 years at FBC Richardson and 38 total years as a youth minister, says just the opposite. “My long tenure in the ministry is what made me good at my job,” he said.
This summer, Johnson gathered 225 youth and staff from FBC Richardson, FBC Killeen and North Haven Church from Norman, Okla., for the last summer camp of his career. The camp was the 15th held at his alma mater, Howard Payne University. “I love having camps on a Baptist campus and being able to expose kids to HPU,” he said. “And HPU has a great staff that takes care of us.” Johnson, a 1971 graduate, serves on HPU’s President Development Council (PDC) and the Youth Ministry Graduate Program Advisory Council. He was also one of five youth ministry professionals and HPU alumni to begin the process of bringing the Bachelor of Arts in Youth Ministry program to HPU in the late 1980s. Johnson, along with Chuck Gartman, Chris Liebrum, the late Wayne McAfee and Jerome Smith, spoke to then-president Dr. Don Newbury about beginning an undergraduate program in youth ministry at HPU.
“We hoped it would boost our school,” Johnson said. “At the time, there were very few training opportunities for youth ministers at the university level.” In 1990, Dr. Newbury hired Dr. Gary Gramling, professor of Christian studies, to design and start a youth ministry degree. HPU began offering the degree in 1991 and a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry in 2006. Gramling serves as the director of the graduate program. “I actually got my job because of Randy and the others,” Gramling said. “I have enjoyed the continuing blessing of Randy’s friendship and support ever since coming to teach here. I have been able to point many students to him as one who ministers effectively and who genuinely lives his faith.”
According to Gramling, Johnson is one of the best-known and loved youth ministers to be found anywhere in the state. “Many youth ministers started out as interns for Randy, and he has a love for investing in young ministers as they get started,” Gramling said. Johnson also speaks about the investment he makes in the youth. He refers to a quote from author and theologian Elton Trueblood who wrote, “Man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.” Said Johnson, “Youth ministry is the business of investing in people. I’ve been lucky to see the result of my investment as well as the investment of others.”
He began his career at Monterey Baptist Church in Lubbock in 1975 after earning a Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. “I thought God was calling me to be a pastor,” he said. “But I was unmarried at the time and no church was looking to hire a single pastor. I accepted a job as a youth minister, planning to stay for three years. I stayed for five. Obviously my interpretation of God’s call changed.” He then served for five years at First Baptist Church of Bryan. Johnson noted that the average tenure for a youth minister at a church was about 18 months in those days. “I then went to FBC Richardson where I noticed they had several staff members who were long-tenured,” he said. “I’ve served with three different pastors in the time I’ve been here. I’m very fortunate to have stayed for so long.”
Johnson has worked to keep his ministry fresh and creative and shares ownership of his youth ministry with three groups – students, parents and volunteers. “And I’ve taken care of myself spiritually,” he added. “People ask me, ‘How old is too old to do youth ministry?’ I don’t know the answer. But I know you can do it until you’re at least 62.”
Johnson is unsure of his plans after his retirement, but he hopes to stay involved with youth ministry in some way. FBC Richardson plans to name him as the church’s first youth minister emeritus. In his 38-year career, Johnson estimates that he’s worked with approximately 6,000 students through his ministry. “The most exciting thing is seeing the way people’s lives change and it’s gratifying to see them grow spiritually and become involved in a local church,” he said. “How can you beat that?”